In his second year as a pro, featherweight prospect AJ Cunningham is much happier with the way he’s been performing compared to how he was prior to turning pro in 2018.
Having previously had a more free-wheeling brawling style, Cunningham has changed his game and is a lot more calculated with how he does things, resulting in two solid first round finishes in his fights in 2019.
“I would go out there a lot of the time and just throw,” Cunningham told MMAWeekly.com. “I absolutely love going out there and just throwing, but it’s not what I’m necessarily the best at, so we changed a lot of things up and it’s really I feel like it has helped my performance.
“As far as understanding what I am, what I’m good at, and what I need to go in there and get out without taking meaningless damage, I like what we’ve done so far and I hope to continue it.”
Though he’s happy with how he’s been performing with his new style, Cunningham acknowledges that things are always a work in progress and there’s always more room for the development of his game.
“There’s always going to be things that I’m critical of,” said Cunningham. “I like going out there and I wish be like (Justin) Gaethje and go out there and do that, but it doesn’t complement my skillset very well.
“I haven’t fought the most quality guys at all, but three of my four opponents have been finished in the first round. I like this way, it makes it look better on paper, so it’s all right.”
This Saturday in Batesville, Arkansas, Cunningham (4-0) will look to keep his winning streak going when he faces Solo Hatley Jr. (6-2) in the 145-pound main event of Pyramid Fights 14.
“I think with Solo it’s interesting because this is one of those fights where I can mix it up,” Cunningham said. “With Solo, he’s a much better boxer than I am. He has a lot of power, but his power tends to fade away later in the fight. I think mixing up wrestling with kickboxing is going to wear him down.
“There’s a few little tricks that I’ve noticed where we’re going to pick it apart, really frustrate him, and then take our shots.”
For Cunningham, taking things one fight at a time is optimal, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have an idea of where he’d like to take things in 2020.
“I think it’s fight by fight and just go with the flow,” said Cunningham. “I went pro in August of 2018, and this will be my fifth fight in X amount of months and it’s been taxing for sure. It’s really been something.
“After this hopefully I’m at 5-0 with four first round finishes, just beating a guy (in Hatley) who is coming off an LFA contract, so we’ll see what my manager can do about getting us a shot at Contender (Series) or fighting for ONE or Bellator, but we’re just going to take it slow and if a good opportunity comes, it comes.”